The dream to Olympic 2020 seems a not too distant reality for Botswana Amateur Fencing Federation (BAFF) as the sport continues to make great strides in booking their place in Tokyo.
In a recent interview, fencing master Karabo Thobega enthused about the growth and future of fencing in Botswana.
The 19-year-old is elated that the rise of his profile in African fencing has also coincided with the sharp rise interest in fencing in local shores. Since his coincidental introduction to the sport, Thobega has witnessed the sport grow in leaps and bounds. “I got introduced to the sport in 2013 by a friend Botlhe Tapologo and I have to admit I did not take the sport seriously. It was after a month of working with national team coach that I developed a keen interest in the sport. In my time here, I have seen interest in the sport grow. In my first training session there were about 10 people now the hall is almost full for training sessions,” he says.
Thobega blesses the day he laid his hands on a sabre weapon. One swift move after another has taken the Tlokweng-born fencer on a ride that has seen him achieve the ultimate sporting holy grail of representing his country in major tournament at the 2014 Africa Youth Games in Gaborone and earning the prestigious title of being the youngest fencing master in Africa. Despite his achievements being well documented in the sport, Thobega has maintained humility and discipline and is not about to rest on his laurels. He is determined to see other fencers reach the same dizzy heights he has reached. “Ever since I came back home from the 10 month fencing master course in Dakar, I have been on a quest to grow fencing in Botswana. Currently I am coaching at the Tlokweng and Mogoditshane clubs and trying to recruit more people into the sport.”
The BAFF, in its quest to grow the sport in Botswana, has six active clubs with Tlokweng, Mogoditshane and Serowe being the most active. There are also two school clubs at Legae Academy and Westwood International. Thobega – in his other role as a coach – hopes one of his protégés will be on the plane to Tokyo. “I am very optimistic that with proper preparations we will have at least one athlete representing Botswana at the next Olympics. Look out for Koketso Masena, Thabile Pilane, Kgosi Tsimele, Tirelo Motshe and Onkarabile Keremong they are the future of fencing in the country,” he says. Thobega also says the federation is working around the clock to further improve fencers in the country. “Starting next week, we hope to conduct coaching clinics and send players on camp. We are also hoping that we will be able to take some athletes to more competitions. We also have two fencers, Sam Chape and Aobakwe Modise at the fencing school in Dakar and we are expecting them back in December and these are all efforts to grow the sport in Botswana.”
Despite the efforts made, Thobega admits they face challenges establishing the sport in Botswana. One of the misconceptions that are nullifying their efforts is that the swords used in fencing are killer weapons. “People think that fencing is dangerous and are scared to participate in fencing because they think we use dangerous weapons. Our weapons are very safe and the sport is really harmless,” reiterates Thobega. He also alludes to financial shortcomings in their effort to take the sport to all and sundry. “Sometimes when we are trying to recruit new players, it’s difficult because fencing is an expensive sport. The gear costs about P1800 and a sword is about P2000 so it’s expensive to buy equipment for everyone or to expect them to readily buy it for themselves,” he says.